Deciphering the coral genome for the first time

July 25, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

The Marine Genomics Unit of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST, Onna Village) succeeded for the first time in deciphering the genome of Acropora digitifera, a coral that inhabits the seas around Okinawa Prefecture.
On July 24, the Unit published a collaborative paper in the online version of Nature, the world’s most cited interdisciplinary science journal, based in the United Kingdom.
Although previous analysis of fossil remains has suggested that this coral was estimated to have existed 240 million years ago, this new study indicates that there is a high possibility that it might actually have originated as long ago as 500 million years ago.

The Unit started three years ago. Thirty-three year-old Chuya Shinzato and other researchers from OIST joined it to work on deciphering the genome of this rare organism.
The study also revealed that the coral possesses the gene that creates a substance that can absorb ultraviolet rays in order to protect itself from the sun’s rays. Past studies presumed that the symbiotic zooxanthella inside the coral carried out this role.
The Unit will continue to study the genomic information of the zooxanthella and will focus on how the coral responds to rising sea temperatures and other environmental changes, in the hope that the studies will help to ascertain the cause of coral bleaching.

Dr. Noriyuki Sato, Principal Investigator of the Unit said, “Okinawa is a hot spot of the marine ecosystem. In future it could become a major center of coral studies with regard to genome deciphering.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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